Published: 20/03/2019
Author: Anne-Marie Rowland

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s been interesting to see how both people and organizations are responding to this year’s theme, ‘Balance for Better.’ The United Nations’ campaign has really stood out for me. It’s a campaign not just focused on balance, but a vision to ‘Think Equal, Build Smart and Innovate for Change.’

Balance is something which I’ve personally battled with - a word that has made me feel guilt. It’s something which I’ve often failed to achieve, not only from a gender perspective, but as a work-life balance dilemma.

One of the most common questions I get asked is: ‘Annie, as a working parent, how do you manage your work life balance?’ My honest answer is - I don’t manage it.

In the past, I haven’t always been so honest or believed it to be true. In fact, I’m sure over the years that I’ve read every book on ‘work-life balance’, ‘work-life balance for moms’ and ‘how to do it all…’, because that’s what we’re conditioned to aspire to. Surely everything would be better if I could just create yet another project for myself to manage!

Back in 2015, I was going through the Partner process in Capco, having just had my first baby, Ellie. Two exciting, yet frightening moments of my life happened at exactly the same time.

During the Partner process, I received some coaching which delved deep into how I was wired. Through the coaching, I realized three things, three behaviors about myself, which it appeared I had developed to perfection from a young age. I thrived on procrastinating; I could never say no; and I always felt guilty – worrying about what others thought.

So, against the backdrop of becoming a first-time mom and a Capco Partner, I focused on trying to stop measuring myself against a ‘work-life balance’ nirvana.

I threw myself into the chaos of life – and made a conscious effort to change my behaviors and zone-in on the essentials, to zone-in on practices that helped me to simplify life.

At the beginning, I still felt immediate guilt and self-doubt around some of my decisions. However, over time, I started to feel like I could enjoy just keeping my head above water.

Here is my “essentials” list for attempting to integrate a busy day to day life:

1. Stop trying to achieve the perfect work-life balance - it’s an uphill battle.

2. Don’t procrastinate - jump into that to-do list. I know this is easier said than done but stay committed.

3. Be brutal with your time. Eliminate the activities or commitments that really aren’t essential to you. I’m currently trying to declutter everything and anything – my diary, my emails, my house, RFPs! 

4. Be open to asking for help and accepting it too. I don’t have any family nearby, so I’ve had to fully embrace childcare and learn not to feel guilty about it.

5. Do what you want to chill out or have fun, and then enjoy it. As an example, I’m getting really, really good at buying exercise equipment. Since January I’ve purchased a cross-trainer, a power plate, a pilates mat, a kettle bell and then a robot that cleans the floors. So far, I’ve only proactively used the robot cleaner, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the notion of exercising this year!

The challenges that I face ‘integrating’ and not ‘managing’ all the elements of my life are unique to me. But if you’re like me – and really enjoy reading books where other peoples’ lives appear even more hectic than your own, give these books a go:

  • A Good Time to Be a Girl – by Helena Morrisey. Helena is a mother of nine children, a former CEO of Newton Investment Management and is currently Head of Personal Investing at Legal & General Investment Management. She also founded the 30% Club, which is a cross-business initiative to achieve better gender-balanced UK company boards. As opposed to just writing a book about what women are doing wrong – she opens up about dealing with a chaotic life, and the positives of asking for help where needed and promotion where desired too.
  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – by Greg McKeown. According to McKeown, The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s about getting only the right things done. It is not a time management strategy, or a productivity technique. It is a discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.
  • The Gifts of Imperfection – by Brene Brown. A great read on being totally comfortable with being imperfect and embracing the chaos of life.
  • Girl Wash Your Face - by Rachel Hollis. A quirky story about the trials and tribulations of living a life, prioritizing your passions and hustling to hit your goals whilst dealing with the messiness and tragedy that can sometimes just knock you down from day to day.

So, for 2019, I challenge you not to aspire to be a perfect person to all people – but do try to simplify everything you do. Think equal, build smart and innovate for change.